It's that time of year again: international top division women's hockey time!
On Saturday, the top eight teams in the world will gather in Malmo, Sweden for the Women's World Championship, a tournament that in non-Olympic years serves as the ultimate international showdown. The tournament runs through April 4. Team USA looks to defend the gold medal it won in 2013, the last year the top division played a World Championship (2014 was an Olympic year, so no Worlds).
This year's American team looks to be a great one, with many of its players already having celebrated championships with their respective NCAA and CWHL teams. The roster is heavy with Boston-based players, but there's also a good WCHA contingent. Three Minnesota Golden Gophers -- Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi and Lee Stecklein -- are just coming off their program's historic sixth national championship, and Stephanie Anderson (Bemidji State), Zoe Hickel (UMD) and Annie Pankowski (Wisconsin) round out the Midwestern sextet. There's also this year's Patty Kazmaier winner in BC's Alex Carpenter, as well as Harvard's Michelle Picard. Five more players recently took home the Clarkson Cup as members of the CWHL's Boston Blades (and you might recognize their names): Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Monique Lamoureux. Two of the three goalies on the roster are Olympic holdovers (Molly Schaus and Jessie Vetter), while Alex Rigsby, a former Wisconsin netminder, is the first in her position to have played on the Under-18, Under-22 and senior women's teams.
Here are some names you should keep your eye on:
- Dani Cameranesi. She's young, just coming off her sophomore season, but she made an impact during last November's 4 Nations Cup, finishing third in scoring, and plays well in nearly every situation (but especially on the power play). With a familiar partner in Hannah Brandt, I can see her adding some good depth to the U.S. offense.
- Alex Carpenter. Last year, she found good chemistry with Hilary Knight and Kelli Stack during international play; Stack won't be playing this year, but I think we can still expect good things from the top NCAA women's player of 2015 no matter where she's playing.
- Zoe Hickel. The senior UMD Bulldog tallied 19 goals and 13 assists in her final campaign and led her team to the NCAA quarters before bowing out to Bemidji State. It's been a slow rise for her, but her consistent hard work on the ice is finally paying off, as she was named to the All-WCHA Second Team this season.
- Brianna Decker. It wasn't just Hilary Knight opposing CWHL teams had to worry about this season. Taking over in the 2015 half of the season after Knight bowed out briefly due to injury, Decker went on a tear and finished her season leading the Blades in scoring, coming a close second to Rebecca Johnston for league leader. She also led scoring during the Clarkson Cup, proving she can play well in intense situations.
- Emily Pfalzer. This offensive-minded D was third in scoring for Boston College in the 2015 season (behind only Carpenter and Haley Skarupa) and has seemed to increase her output each year. She'll be a welcome addition to a blueline that already has offensive talent in Lamoureux and puck-moving savvy in Lee Stecklein.
- Alex Rigsby. As mentioned before, she's an interesting player, not just because she's the first of her kind to play for Team USA on multiple levels, but because she's been training on her own since exhausting her NCAA eligibility at Wisconsin and has basically kept her spot on her own merit. As a Badger, she had beautiful numbers all four seasons she played (.941 average save percentage).
- Finnish goaltender and former Gopher Noora Raty is not playing this Women's Worlds due to health reasons. (IIHF)
- Poor Blake Bolden. The Blades blueliner got tripped up by carpeting on the ice while celebrating her team's Clarkson Cup win and couldn't escape it getting caught on camera. At least the Cup wasn't hurt. (Monique Lamoureux/Twitter)
- But that's okay -- she's also the subject of a short documentary by Boston College junior Cai Thomas, which could win NESN's Next Producer. Check out the doc and its competitors and vote on NESN.com. (NESN)
- Shannon Szabados was named the SPHL Player of the Week for her second time this season. She's 15-8-1 this season, with an eight-game personal win streak going currently. (Southern Professional Hockey League)
- Check out @GopherWHockey for more recaps, reaction and information regarding the Gophers' championship win Sunday! I'm still not over it, so neither should you be. (Twitter)